Gluten-free chestnut and pear cake

img_1168It was Geoff’s book launch yesterday, and I wanted to make something (with mainly wild ingredients) for people to nibble on. We had a glut of pears and sweet chestnuts, so I started looking in the usual places, but chestnuts don’t seem to be widely used in baking, at least in this country. Or when they are, they’re paired with chocolate, which I thought might overwhelm their subtle taste.

I’d heard you could use them to make a (gluten-free) flour, as per the Italian ‘poor man’s cake’ Castagnaccio, which looks delicious – but it contains pine nuts and I wanted a recipe where all the ingredients could, in theory, be foraged in the UK. Eventually I found this recipe from Azalea’s Kitchen, which I’ve adapted by removing the chocolate and adding pears, and substituting fresh chestnuts for the chestnut puree.

This recipe was a great success, yielding a moist, light, subtly flavoured cake that wasn’t too sweet. Everyone liked it. BUT, I’m going to say this right up front, making chestnut flour is labour intensive! It took probably two hours to remove the shells from enough chestnuts (pro tip: wait for them to cool, they come out easier). So if anyone knows how to speed up that process, I’d be glad to hear it.

img_1166Once they’re shelled, you just crumble them or put them through a food processor. I also spread them out thinly to dry for an hour, as I thought that might help give a lighter texture, but I don’t know how necessary this is.

In future I’d be interested to try this recipe with honey instead of sugar, but I know that can create challenges with texture too, so on this occasion I played it safe!

Time

4 hours to prepare the flour
20 mins to prepare the cake
50 mins to cook

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 200g sugar
  • 100g butter / coconut oil / other oil
  • 200g ground almonds / other nuts
  • 400g shelled chestnuts (about 500g before shelling)
  • zest of one lemon / orange
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 3 ripe pears

Instructions

  1. Score the chestnuts and roast for 30 mins. Set aside to cool.
  2. Peel the chestnuts (ha, she says), then crumble them to a flour-like texture, or use a food processor. Spread the flour out to dry for an hour.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 180 (160 fan) and line a 20cm tin.
  4. Slice the pears and set aside.
  5. Separate the eggs. Whisk the yolks and sugar together until creamy.
  6. Add the melted butter, or whatever fat you’re using.
  7. Add the ground almonds, chestnut flour, lemon zest and baking powder and mix well.
  8. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks, then fold gently into the cake mixture. Don’t over-mix.
  9. Pour the mixture into the tin and arrange the pear slices across the top.
  10. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean.

Leave to cool, and voila!

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Slow food: garden snails

Now I’m not going to lie to you. When Geoff appeared in the lounge brandishing a handful of what looked suspiciously like garden snails, my heart didn’t jump for joy.

snails

They were indeed garden snails (Helix aspersa), which he’d found hibernating in part of a dry stone wall. If you want to eat snails at any other time of year, when they’re not hibernating, you have to keep them for a week and purge them. However, they purge themselves before they hibernate, so if you find them all tucked up for winter, you can eat them straight away.

So he went ahead and cooked them, with plenty of garlic, and I must admit they were OK. Not up there in my top ten, but they’re a good source of protein and iron, and heck, if the French can do it so can we.

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Here’s the recipe, in Geoff’s own delicate words:

“First I dropped them in boiling water (to kill them).  After about a minute or two I drained the water, then removed them from their shells and washed them in cold water, removing any remaining gloop and dangly bits.  I then fried a bit of garlic in olive oil, then when the garlic had started to cook I added the snails and a bit of parsley.  Might have been better in butter.”